Letters to the Editor

'Linguistic missteps'

Irvine Sen. Dick Ackerman and Assembly Member Mike Villines of Clovis tell us a lot about themselves, sitting around kidding about Sen. Ackerman's statement, "I could kill my wife and the dog -- maybe not the dog -- and still get elected [in my gerrymandered district]."

What haven't they learned from the recent linguistic missteps of Mel Gibson, Michael Richards and Isaac Washington? Their respective ethnic, racial and sexual slurs, and our reactions to them, were so well publicized as to serve as a recent reminder that language is used in a cultural context.

Most speakers of a language know the rules of acceptability for what can and cannot be said in our social milieu. America Ferrera, star of "Ugly Betty," went so far as to remind us that what we say demonstrates what we think, saying at the Golden Globes that "we need to stop using that word [ugly], especially to ourselves."

Why, therefore, do two state leaders see wives and dogs as a category, whether of possessions or pets? And why would anyone ever in any conceivable context ever say, "I could kill my wife ... ."? This "joke" leads me to know something of what these men really think and makes me wonder what they say to themselves.

Jerry McMenamin